Solar power converts solar energy into electricity using photovoltaic and solar thermal technology. Essentially the heat is captured, reorganized at the microscopic level, transported and stored. This fundamental process of generating solar power through photovoltaic cells can be demonstrated in a two step process. This article will outline that process then elaborate on other details and methods surrounding this renewable form of electricity.
Step 1: Capturing the Sun’s Energy:
Since the suns position in the sky is strongest on the South Side in the Northern Hemisphere the ideal location for solar panels is facing South at an angle that helps absorb the most amount of heat. Usually dark silicone based materials are used to capture the suns light rays. This silicone is also used as a semiconductor.
Step 2: Converting light spectrum into Energy:
To convert photons which are very small particles of light within rays of light, into energy the silicone semiconductors are exposed to energy field to channel the new electrical current toward the area to which the energy will be used. The electrical current is created by a combination of the applied electric field and the freeing of electrons that takes place in the semiconductors. This freeing of electrons is called ionization.
Chemicals such as phosphorus and boron can be integrated into solar semiconductors to improve the conduction of the newly created electricity. The electrons from these substances are also affected by the photons from the light rays and create an electrostatic field within the solar cell. This electrostatic filed allows the semiconductor to work efficiently and consistently and can eliminate if not reduce the need for an articifially or externally generated field.
Solar Thermal Electricity:
Like photovoltaic electricity, solar thermal electricity uses the suns light to create power. However, instead of using photovoltaic silicone cells, this method uses large mirrors to reflect light to points such as pipes carrying water. This then creates steam which spins turbines and the spinning of turbines is used to create electricity. Researchers such as Artin Der Minassians and Seth R. Sanders have published findings on engineering equipment that can reduce the cost of generating electricity using solar thermal energy. A link to one such publication is provided with this article.
Another application of solar thermal electricity is in the use of solar water heaters which use pumps to circulate water through solar panels that capture solar energy. This water becomes and stays warm as it circulates through the pipes. The link to www.southface.org at the bottom of this article illustrates the different types of solar water heating methods that are currently used.
The Future of Solar Power:
Solar cells are not all created equal. Some utilize materials better than others and recently nano-technology has been experimented with to enhance and optimize the power generated through solar energy. For example, ‘spray on solar cells’ are a nano based plastic that is more able to capture solar energy through clouds and can be applied directly to equipment or machines eliminating the use of solar cells altogether. While this technology has not be fully developed is demonstrates the potential solar energy has in the future.
Since solar energy is essentially inexhaustible the problem isn’t so much with the raw material to be converted into power but rather with the conversion process. Solar panels can become obsolete quickly, overly expensive and take up a lot of space especially if batteries are used to store the energy for future use. Electric companies do not rely heavily on solar power so solar power is often an individual or corporate investment that can require a lot of installation and up front expense.
As the solar technology improves, becomes more standardized and cost effective through tax relief and lower set up costs it will likely gain more popularity. Research into solar technology is ongoing and new developments in this research occur annually. The technology is environmentally friendly as it creates few or no harmful bi-products in the generation of electricity. Fossil fuels such as coal and oil do create bi-products and these bi-products can be harmful to ecosystems and the Earths atmosphere. Due to the way solar power works it is favored among environmentalists and is called a clean renewable resource.
http://media.coe.berkeley.edu/CET_Community/index. php?title=Tech:_Low-Cost_Solar-Thermal-Electric_Tech nology:_August_28%2C_2006